Last year, Alok Tripathi from Madhya Pradesh’s Satna district ran from pillar to post to acquire a pass to move around during the lockdown. He neither had classes to take, nor any medical emergencies. Upon hearing his peculiar reason, even authorities smirked, but eventually gave in.
His reason was to water plants in the government pre-secondary (middle) school, that he had so carefully and lovingly nurtured over the years. For the last 20 years, Alok, the village headmaster, has strenuously worked to convert an empty 3.5-acre patch of the school property into a green oasis. However, due to various reasons, the plan never flourished. So finally, when in 2018, he observed a change, Alok has since been going all out to protect the plants.
It’s rare to see a school teacher devoting so many years of his life to a cause he truly believes in. As I say this, Alok, who is sitting hundreds of miles away from me in MP, lets out a hearty laugh and says, “In the ‘80s, I had just joined the school and as part of an excursion, I visited a plantation drive by an NGO. The head was passionately telling us about his purpose to increase the green cover. I had never seen anyone so dedicated. I was inspired, and since then, plantation has been my lifelong dream.”
The school campus boasts of more than 240 varieties of fruit-bearing trees like mango, amla, jamun; medicinal plants like neem, tulsi, ashwagandha, curry leaves and other plants, including peepal, banyan and mahua.
‘Animal attacks & plant thefts didn’t deter me’
In 1986, Alok first planted five saplings. Within two days, someone had stolen them, leaving him disheartened. Back then, the school neither had a boundary, nor any tree guards. Invasions by cows and buffaloes was another issue – they either fed on plants or walked over the small saplings.
After failing at the plantation drive a couple of times, Alok took up the issue with the local government and persuaded them to build a boundary wall around the school, “Even something as basic as this took years to build. Once the boundary was there, I began planting again, but was met with the same result.” He tried to get a few tree guards made from bamboo and bass but people even broke those. Alok wasn’t able to understand why anyone would steal the plants, or worse spoil their efforts. However, he still kept going.
What made all the efforts special was that Alok never hired any labourers to plant the saplings, and never approached the government for money.
In 2000, he planted again, but this time, with a different approach. He roped in Rakesh, a villager in the area, who donated 27 saplings, including almond and banyan, in his late father’s memory. He also roped in students for care and maintenance.
“We attached a small note alongside the saplings, stating that these were planted in the memory of a departed soul. This worked. There were no thefts and I continued this strategy to get other plants. I spread the word in the village and several villagers donated saplings in their loved one’s memory,” Alok recalls. Today, these plants donated by Rakesh have grown to 15 feet. Alok himself donated 50 saplings.
Every plant is protected by a tree guard till it grows, and each guard can cost up to Rs 1,500. The entire cost is borne by Alok and other teachers. On his lucky days, he finds sponsors. One of his friends donated a 1000-litre water tank.
Seeing the plants thrive on the campus and the children taking a keen interest in tending to them, Alok says his life’s dream is finally coming true. “When Class I students fill the 2-litre water cans to help me during lunch breaks, I feel so happy. I am assured that even after I retire, the campus will be green and lush,” he says.
Besides his green mission, Alok is also known in the area for his efforts to enrol 30 children from nomadic families in the school. They didn’t have any identity or government-issued documents, so Alok helped with paperwork. For this noble endeavour, he was awarded the Outstanding Teachers (Governor) Award in 2017 by the Madhya Pradesh School Education Department bestowed Tripathi with the Outstanding Teachers (Governor) Award in 2017.
Edited by Divya Sethu